Point of Crisis, Point of Grace
At this point, we are apt to cry out, "Who then can be saved? Is there anyone who can not approach God weighed down by a substantial amount of self interest?" As Paul noted, "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God" (Rom. 3:10-11) I believe he meant it literally. I do, anyway.
It's at this point, that we've come to the crisis point, the point of crucifixion. We know we're as good as dead. Condemned to a life of self-centeredness. And thus condemned to a life without God.
It is only when all hope is lost, of course, that grace rears its beautiful head. Grace only emerges at the point of utter hopelessness. If there is any taint of will, any notion that there is something I can do to resolve the crisis—be penitent, pray, do good—then we're no longer talking about grace, but some sort of deal with God.
So the crisis point is not a single point that occurs at the moment when one becomes a Christian. The crisis point is life itself. And thus life itself is a grace point.
This is what the Bible means when it says we are to repent—the Greek word, metanoia, that we translate "repent" literally means "to change one's mind." In this case, it means changing our mind about what is going on, recognizing that we are not as pious or as transformed as we had imagined, that our hearts and wills remain desperately wicked, and that our situation is hopeless.
And this is brings us to a point of faith. Faith is not mentally affirming some creed, or working up some positive attitude. Faith is the other side of the coin of repentance. If repentance is recognizing that our situation is hopeless, faith if recognizing that God is our only hope. Faith thus becomes the point of grace. And the point of grace is intensified by recognizing that God has been a gracious presence in our lives during all the years of false piety, or better, is a gracious and continuing presence despite our ongoing corrupt piety.
Paul put is this way, "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). At every moment we are crucified, and at every moment we are raised, by Christ, to new life. In every moment we live within ourselves, and in every moment, Christ lives in us. The crisis point is grace point.
So the purpose in helping us see how much our talk of transformation is often talk of self-righteousness, self-importance, and self-justification is to help us seea good God, one who is patient with our folly, so gracious as to embrace our to self-deceived and self-centered selves, and to use them to serve him.
And to use them to transform ourselves and our world.
Yes, I really believe in transformation! And it begins, as Paul notes, with the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2)—repentance and faith! How I think that works itself out exactly, I will attempt to explain in my next column.
But for now, I would hope we can simply stand at the point of crisis, confounded by the desperately wicked heart, and therefore at the point of grace, awash in wonder at the mercy of God.
Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today. He is the author of Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untameable God (Baker).
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Previous SoulWork columns include:
Long Live Organic Church! | But what do we do if the world isn't transformed? (January 7, 2010)
How to Have a Merry Christmas | And it doesn't require you doing another blessed thing. (December 23, 2009)
Waiting for Jesus to Show Up | Moving from loving the idea of loving God to loving God. (December 10, 2009)
In "SoulWork," Mark Galli brings news, Christian theology, and spiritual direction together to explore what it means to be formed spiritually in the image of Jesus Christ.
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- Closer than Ever to the Breath of God
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- Mastering the Golf Swing of Life